Tag Archives: Potcake Poet

Michael R. Burch: ‘For All That I Remembered’

For all that I remembered, I forgot
her name, her face, the reason that we loved …
and yet I hold her close within my thought:
I feel the burnished weight of auburn hair
that fell across her face, the apricot
clean scent of her shampoo, the way she glowed
so palely in the moonlight, angel-wan.

The memory of her gathers like a flood
and bears me to that night, that only night,
when she and I were one, and if I could …
I’d reach to her this time and, smiling, brush
the hair out of her eyes, and hold intact
each feature, each impression. Love is such
a threadbare sort of magic, it is gone
before we recognize it. I would crush

my lips to hers to hold their memory,
if not more tightly, less elusively.

*****

Michael R. Burch writes: “For All That I Remembered” is one of my personal favorites and one of a number of poems I have written about the transience of memory, along with “The Effects of Memory,” “Violets,” “Moments,” “Distances,” “Redolence,” “Vacuum,” “Afterglow” “Memento Mori” and “Remembrance.” “For All That I Remembered” has been published by The Raintown Review, Boston Poetry Magazine, la luce che non muore (Italy), The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Kritya (India), Jewish Letter (Russia), Gostinaya (in a Russian translation by Yelena Dubrovin), Freshet, Orchards Poetry, Poetry Life & Times, Sonnetto Poesia (Canada), Trinacria, The New Formalist and Pennsylvania Review.”

Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth and two outrageously spoiled puppies. Burch’s poems, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories, epigrams, quotes, puns, jokes and letters have appeared more than 7,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post and hundreds of literary journals, websites and blogs. Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper, and, according to Google’s rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. Burch’s poetry has been taught in high schools and universities, translated into fifteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, set to music by twenty composers, recited or otherwise employed in more than forty YouTube videos, and used to provide book titles to two other authors. To read the best poems of Mike Burch in his own opinion, with his comments, please click here: Michael R. Burch Best Poems.

Memory” by Kris Krug is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Calling the Poem: 13. ‘Crafting the Verse’

We stand on two banks of the river that’s flowing between us.
I’ll bridge my new thoughts out to you with a verse.
First I form key ideas – they need clarity, cleanness –
The bridge forms an outline, takes shape in my head.
Now that bridge must be built,
Built regardless of canyons, or mud flats and silt.

The pillars are images placed first for more of the bridge to traverse,
With my strongest words buttressing them so they’re not washed away.
Their positions are set by the distance and shores,
While the force of the water, the shape of the bed,
And the landscape and soil on my side and yours,
The allowance for possible earthquake or storm,
The demands of the load that the bridge will convey…
These determine the structure, materials, form:
For the best bridge will meet site demands
With both strength and matched style.
So the poet needs meter and rhyme, every trick he commands,
Or the verses won’t carry their burden, will fail to beguile.

Though you see stone or steel in the bridge, for the most part it’s air,
Rhythmic arches of unspoken airy allusion, illusion,
Outlined in hard words and designed to be elegant, spare.
So this poem’s a book, that’s reduced to an essay, reduced more compactly
To two hundred lines, sacrificing precision
To memory’s need for concision, elision.
Two hundred exactly?
No, not exactly. (Exactly!)

From the sweep, pattern, length,
To its delicate strength,
Whether old Roman aqueduct, young Golden Gate,
Whether flowing with water or people and freight,
Its clean shape was constrained by the structural needs and efficiencies,
Driving its strength and position and duty.
All unstructured words in the river are wasted deficiencies.
Poems will last quite as long as an old Roman aqueduct,
Bridging the banks, bearing brightly in rhythms of beauty,
If all ostentation and ornamentation
Support the key functions in what you construct.
Raise your sights to the Space Elevator, that cable,
That modern-day Tower of Babel,
To not just bridge over
A strait or the Severn
But up! to bridge up! at the same time, to heaven.

Cloaked gods were invoked,
And the tiger broke cover,
Your poem connects river banks.
Now give thanks.

*****

When I moved to Denmark in my early 20s I was intrigued to hear that engineering students at a local university began their studies, not with lectures on a variety of key subjects, but by being placed in teams and told to design a bridge that would meet the demands for specific use at a specified site. Materials, geology, weather, load, cost, elegance and everything else that goes into bridge design all had to be researched and included in the project. When students had completed a whole series of projects, they had earned their degree. It was a very different approach from the lecture-based university courses that I had dropped out of in the UK.

How does this relate to writing poetry? Well, it brings to mind Heinlein’s ‘first law of writing’: “You must write.” Also the old story of the would-be concert-goer lost in New York City, asking a man with a violin case how to get to Carnegie Hall and being told “Practice, practice, practice.” There are a lot of factors involved in writing verse – some are common across all cultures and languages while others are language-specific. They all involve ideas (and their mysterious origin), images and their expression in words; but making those words so effective that they evoke an appropriate response in the reader or listener, so effective that they can be remembered and recited, requires the use of a whole range of language-specific factors that are mastered by doing.

By the way, the “two hundred lines” mentioned above refers to the length of the entire ‘Calling the Poem’ e-chapbook that this is part of. This chapbook is a single work, though constructed of various formal and semi-formal pieces.

Photo: “Roman Bridge, Merida” by Jocelyn777 Love Europe is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Richard Fleming, ‘His Room’

It took five minutes, more or less,
to fill, with what he left behind,
a cardboard box and to compress
into its space, his life, unsigned
in much the way some paintings are,
then stash it in the waiting car.

In those five minutes, I remained
there in the small, vacated room,
while the red-faced landlord explained
a small arrears. Would I assume
responsibility and pay?
My conscience made me easy prey.

*****

Richard Fleming writes: “Growing old, I find myself preoccupied with life’s endings: a balancing of accounts, so to speak, and the inevitable feelings of regret and remorse for things done badly or left undone. Deliberations of that sort inspired this piece of verse, as did the lonely, final years of renowned Guernsey-born novelist, G B Edwards, the demise of an old friend in similar straitened circumstances and, of course, Larkin’s famous poem, Mr Bleaney. I think ‘His Room’ manages, despite its brevity, to encapsulate the ‘whimper’ with which some lives end. A simple rhyme scheme seems best suited to the poem’s mundane subject matter.”

Richard Fleming is an Irish-born poet currently living in Guernsey, a small island midway between Britain and France. His work has appeared in various magazines, most recently Snakeskin, Bewildering Stories, Lighten Up Online, the Taj Mahal Review and the latest Potcake Chapbook ‘Lost Love’, and has been broadcast on BBC radio. He has performed at several literary festivals and his latest collection of verse, Stone Witness, features the titular poem commissioned by the BBC for National Poetry Day. He writes in various genres and can be found at www.redhandwriter.blogspot.com or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/richard.fleming.92102564/

Photo: “Emptied cardboard box” by Creativity103 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Brooke Clark, ‘At a Child’s Funeral’

Today we give to the earth the body of our little girl,
our little darling; we’ll never watch her twirl
around the house again in her impenetrable games
or listen as she wheedles and whines our names
in that annoying tone we tried to break her of before;
now we’d give anything to hear it once more.
She’ll find whatever waits for all of us when this life ends–
eternal silence or the souls of friends–
while, left behind, we bow our heads to see what prayers can do.
Lie lightly, earth–she stepped so lightly on you.

*****

Brooke Clark writes: “‘At A Child’s Funeral‘ is loosely adapted from one of Martial’s epigrams. This poem interested me because it’s quite a departure from Martial’s usual satirical style. In it, he attempts to convey a genuinely tender emotion, which is well outside his usual register of scorn verging on disgust. That made it a departure for me too, and I struggled to get the tone right — emotional without being mawkish. I hope I succeeded! In terms of form, it’s in rhyme, and uses alternating 7-stress and 5-stress lines in imitation of Martial’s elegiac couplets.”

Brooke Clark is the author of the poetry collection Urbanities, the editor of the epigrams website The Asses of Parnassus and the book reviews editor at Able Muse. Twitter: @thatbrookeclark

Photo: “Filipino child funeral” by Ted Abbott is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Michael R. Burch, ‘Styx’

Black waters,
deep and dark and still…
all men have passed this way,
or will.

*****

Michael R. Burch writes: “This original epigram, written in my teens, returns more than 6,000 results. I started writing poetry around age 13 and decided that I wanted to challenge the immortals around age 15. I was always very ambitious about my writing. When I couldn’t out-write Keats and Shelley at age 15, I destroyed everything I had written in a fit of pique. I was able to reconstruct some of the poems from memory, but not all. I still miss a few of the poems that seemed promising which have not cooperated with being resurrected.”

Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth and two outrageously spoiled puppies. Burch’s poems, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories, epigrams, quotes, puns, jokes and letters have appeared more than 7,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post and hundreds of literary journals, websites and blogs. Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper, and, according to Google’s rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. Burch’s poetry has been taught in high schools and universities, translated into fifteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, set to music by twenty composers, recited or otherwise employed in more than forty YouTube videos, and used to provide book titles to two other authors. To read the best poems of Mike Burch in his own opinion, with his comments, please click here: Michael R. Burch Best Poems.

Photo: “Styx” by wilding.andrew is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Mindy Watson, ‘On Johnson’s Creek’

Mid 80’s, late Wisconsin summer day.
You’re male; just one of many crayfish lured
Innately to this shallow, turbid creek.
July’s sweet warmth assures you that you’ll not
Find only sanctuary, but a mate.
And at a human hand-span’s length from tail

To telson, you’re a splendid prospect: tail
Aloft and eyestalks staunch, you greet the day.
With fierce claws brandished, you await your mate
In burrow’s dark. And nothing could have lured
You from your would-be breeding quarters – not
Until a stealthy stick from o’er the creek

Despoils your warren’s sanctity. The creek,
In tacit bounty, spurs your nerve. Your tail
Aflutter, claws outstretched, you’re not
Alarmed – you clamp the twig and seize the day.
But then the surreptitious branch that lured
You wrests you from the stream, reveals its mate

Above – a boy who thwarts your quest for mate.
His form obstructs the sun and dwarfs the creek
Below the wooden pier. It seems he’s lured
You here for idle sport; he grips your tail
And flings you hard against the planks. While day
Retreats, light’s sudden ebb arises not

From cosmic cause. The sneering boy (who’s not
Alone – a girl shrinks near her preening mate)
Uplifts his foot and renders blissful day
Brutality. Impassively, the creek
Laps on. Your once resplendent olive tail
Is tattered, shattered by the boy who lured

You, crushed your stately carapace. Though lured
From neural ruination’s throes, you’re not
Yet blind; you see his female friend turn tail.
And I, the girl that boy deems doting mate,
For whom you’re executed by the creek –
I know what cruel conceit is that day.

From where once lured, you sink, potential mate
Undone. Not waiting, brethren flee the creek,
Tails undulating. Silence veils the day.

*****

Mindy Watson writes: “‘On Johnson’s Creek’ represents not only one of my earliest published poems, but also my first-ever sestina attempt. Even three decades later, the poem’s instigating tragedy—an ill-starred crustacean’s senseless slaughter—so profoundly disturbed me, that I chose the most convoluted, challenging form I’d known (at that point) to narrate from the dwindling victim’s (second person) point of view. Although my own human projections—predicated upon the Northern Wisconsin climate, incident’s time of year, and region’s most statistically plentiful crayfish species—dictated the crayfish’s depicted age, gender, and objectives; the poem’s auxiliary characters’ (the boy=my older step-cousin; the girl=10-year-old me) motivations and ensuing impressions were pointedly accurate. While I’ve since drafted/published two subsequent sestinas, I still believe the form’s almost fanatical repetition, intricate transpositions, and final unifying envoi best suit this tale-in-verse; which aimed to equate a single creature’s unwitting suffering with humanity’s often capricious cruelty. Two end notes: 1) this sestina preceded/inspired ‘The Maligned Majority,’ a pro-arthropod, non-fiction essay that appeared in Willows Wept Review’s Summer 2020 issue; and 2) while I’m told my childhood step-cousin later married (twice) and still resides/works near Johnson Creek…I haven’t directly spoken to him since that fateful day.”

Mindy Watson is a Washington DC-based formal verse poet who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from the John Hopkins University. Her poems have appeared in venues including Autumn Sky Poetry, Eastern Structures, the Poetry Porch, the Potcake Chapbooks, the Quarterday Review, Snakeskin, Star*Line, Think Journal, and many others. Read her work at: https://mindywatson.wixsite.com/poetryprosesite

‘On Johnson’s Creek’ originally appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Jan. 30, 2017

Potcake Poet’s Choice: James B. Nicola, ‘Everybody’s Friendly, Just About…’

On my floor there lives a very nice old
man. Foreign. He’s going blind.
I don’t think he was necessarily an act-
or but a vestigial life percolates up from beneath
the lines in his face and accent. Lately, reaching
out to him has become exhausting. He’s too friendly

now and thrusts his face too close. . . . I was friendly
when I moved in the building. I thought old
meant interesting. Besides, singles are always reaching
out somehow, even when we appear blind
to the personalities and plights that lie beneath
the surface of a stranger’s smile, that casual act

on the elevator where everyone’s an act-
or in some way. Alas, I lack the stamina to feel friendly
always. . . . One time I was standing beneath
the shower in the health club, and another old
man poked his head in. The steam must have blind-
ed him to the soapy mess in my hair. He was just reaching

for whomever he could find for help. What’s wrong with reaching
out when you need help? He had been a famous act-
or, probably used to bothering others. I almost blurted, “Are you blind
or what?! I’m showering!” I felt unfriendly—
then hypocritical, for I knew the showers were old.
After I got his to work, I heard him singing beneath

the nozzle and the steam. Tone deaf. Of course beneath
it all, I was just cranky about his not reaching
out to some paid employee instead of me. Was I getting old
all of a sudden? Old and irritable. O, why resent act-
ing friendly simply because you don’t feel particularly friendly? . . .
Sometimes in the elevator, I’ll read. The book or magazine’s a blind,

but is it hypocrisy? I wonder. Then, when a certifiably blind
person gets on—with a walking stick—the person lying beneath
my literary subterfuge looks up, and, actually feeling friendly,
says hello, implying I could provide some assistance in reaching
a floor if so desired. No, this is not an act:
When they don’t ask for help, I don’t feel cranky or old.

When they do, rudely, I fear I’m going blind, reaching
out to souls beneath loud showers, trying too hard to act
friendly always, and turning prematurely old.

James B. Nicola writes: “If anyone cares to perform ‘Everyone’s Friendly, Just about….,’ you can either enhance the repeated end-of-line words (slightly), or try to ‘enjamb’ through them. In this way, you may notice it exploits the sestina form to serve as a bridge between the ‘poetic/special/heightened’ and the ‘conversational/ quotidien/ casual.’ The balance, or tension, between the two is a concern we have in the theater as well, with the actor’s craft. More than once have I coached an actor with: “For heaven’s sake, don’t let anyone catch you acting!” The poem is the first sestina of mine ever published. It is from my first poetry collection, Manhattan Plaza.”

James B. Nicola has authored six collections of poetry, the latest being Fires of Heaven: Poems of Faith and Sense. Decades of theater work culminated in the nonfiction book Playing the Audience: The Practical Guide to Live Performance, which won a Choice award. Residence: New York City; born: Worcester, Massachusetts.
https://sites.google.com/view/james-b-nicola

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Cody Walker, ‘Mad System Down’

He thought he saw a Herd of Cattle
Grazing on his lawn:
He looked again, and found it was
A Phaser set to “On.”
“We’re seeing more and more of this,
With Sarah Brady gone.”

He thought he saw a One-Eyed Jack
Go grizzling through the night:
He looked again, and found it was
His Dream of Being Right.
“It turns out not to mean a thing,”
He texted Barry White.

He thought he saw a High-school Hoodlum
Trash his Neighbor’s Yard:
He looked again, and found it was—
Just say it, man. “It’s hard.
I saw my life, reviewed by God.
He had it single-starred.”

He thought he saw Roberta Vinci
Execute a volley:
He looked again, and found it was
A randy Shepherd (prolly).
“I’d live with him, and be his love—
But no, I’ve read my Raleigh.”

He thought he saw his Country’s Fortunes
Crumble—wait a minute:
He looked again, and found there was
Another way to spin it.
“In eighty years we’ll be cadavers.
Kinda funny, innit?”

He thought he saw a Panicked Face
Upon a Panicked Neck:
He looked again, and found it was
Umm . . . nothing. Wait a sec.
He thought he saw a Panicked Face
Upon a Panicked Neck.

Cody Walker writes: “I’ve been writing in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Mad Gardener’s Song’ stanza form for a couple of decades. The form ferries me to some of my favorite destinations: the Land of Rhyme, the Land of Associative Logic. Though I don’t think I’ll ever outdo Carroll in terms of quality (the start of his final stanza—’He thought he saw an Argument / That proved he was the Pope: / He looked again, and found it was / A Bar of Mottled Soap’—strikes me as unimprovable), I have outdone him in terms of quantity (he wrote nine stanzas; I’ve written about 375). I’ve also, more and more, tried to shake the form free from its light-verse origins. Can a form as seemingly weightless as the ‘Mad Gardener’s Song’ stanza take on cancer, Alzheimer’s, school shootings, and (see above) debilitating anxiety? I think it can. But I may need another couple of decades to fully test the hypothesis.

“I’ve read ‘Mad System Down’ for the University of Michigan’s Poetry Blast series, and I’ve written about the form for Poetry Northwest and the Kenyon Review’s blog. Four of the six stanzas in ‘Mad System Down’ originally appeared on the KR blog. The poem’s penultimate stanza first appeared in Light.”

Cody Walker is the author of three poetry collections, including ‘The Self-Styled No-Child’ (Waywiser, 2016). His work appears in The New York Times Magazine, Light, Parnassus, The Best American Poetry and the latest Potcake Chapbook, ‘Lost Love’. He directs the Bear River Writers’ Conference in Northern Michigan. Website: codywalker.net

Illustration: A Harry Furniss illustration for ‘The Mad Gardener’s Song’ from the Lewis Carroll novel Sylvie and Bruno.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Vadim Kagan, ‘You Are Changing’

You are changing from day to day
And from night to night
You are changing before I say
Let there be light
You are changing your smile, your hair
And even your eyes
You are changing what isn’t there
Making truth of lies

You are changing the coins you bet
And the games you win
You are changing what has been set
Outside and in
You are changing from old to new
And again to old
You are changing all that we knew
But were never told

You are changing along the way
And across the sea
You are changing the things that may
Be the last we see
You are changing your blood to sweat
And yourself to me
So keep changing but don’t forget
How it used to be

Vadim Kagan writes: “Life is all about changes. People change, countries change, the world changes. Are we walking in circles or are we ascending (or descending) some universal helix? Opinions differ but as I got older I realized that to me it matters less where we are going than where we came from. This poem was written during a tumultuous time in my life, when I realized that, no matter how well I try to plan,  tomorrow will be different from what I imagined. The poem was, in a way, a kind of therapy – and is probably even more relevant than several years ago. It is also more musical than many of my poems, and made a great (if little known) song.”

Vadim Kagan writes poetry and prose in English, Russian and, occasionally, a combination of both languages. He runs an AI company in Bethesda, MD and is a member of the DC Poetry Collective. His poems have been published in The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, Founder’s Favorites, DC Poetry Collective Inkblots anthologies and the latest Potcake Chapbook, ‘Lost Love’. He often posts on Facebook (@vadimkagan) and Instagram (@wines_and_rhymes.)

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Helena Nelson, ‘On Gloom and Proper Respect’

He doesn’t exactly blame her for it. No,
it’s not her fault. She is the way she is—
incorrigibly optimistic. But
the strain of her unbridled cheerfulness

must tell. His gloom requires due diligence.
It’s there to serve a need, and needs a slow
and proper processing. That’s it—a proper pro-
cessing. To this he must commit, and hence

his necessary isolation. No,
he is not depressed. He’s just process-
ing. Some ‘thing’ is passing through. It will go
eventually, but it must run its course.

The weight of doom would be a minor stress
if she would just dispense with cheerfulness.

Helena Nelson writes: “This poem is part of a book-length sequence telling the story of an ordinary, conventional marriage (albeit a second marriage for each partner). It’s about love that struggles to survive the difficulties of aging, loss and illness. The husband, Mr Philpott, has always suffered from anxiety but he has bouts of depression too, when he withdraws into himself. In fact, he might fairly be described as a ‘difficult’ man, though he can’t help it. Here the sonnet form reflects his need for tight control, repressing his anxiety about depression, which gets squeezed uncomfortably across the line breaks. There’s humour here, too. Because how absurd it is, surely, to wish your wife were less cheerful? And yet he does. He certainly does.” 

Helena Nelson runs HappenStance Press and sometimes writes poems, one of which appears in the soon-to-be-released latest Potcake Chapbook, ‘Lost Love’. She has been writing the story of Mr and Mrs Philpott for over twenty years, and it can finally be found in its complete form as Pearls (The Complete Mr and Mrs Philpott Poems)